Sure, some critics say that we’re currently experiencing a new “Golden Age” in television. Apparently there’s so many amazing shows out there that even really good shows can get lost in the shuffle. Well, it seems those same critics forgot about a little time period known as the 1980s when TV shows with names like Jake and the Fatman and Bosom Buddies were greenlit with such ferocity that one could hardly keep track of the sheer volume of awesomeness on network television. That’s why, it seems, for absolutely no other reason at all, national treasures such as Manimal & Automan were limited to less than one season. Perhaps their innate greatness was the reason why they were pulled from the airwaves prematurely. It would take over thirty years and a DVD release of Hardcastle and McCormick for America to be prepared to yet again lay witness to such masterpieces of the small screen, but now they have both finally arrived on DVD!
There’s probably a very small chance that you randomly clicked on a link to read this article. More than likely, you’re like me and you relish all things retro, particularly those that leave you wanting more. In fact, faithful reader, you’re probably reading this article because somewhere deep down Manimal and/or Automan left a deep impression on your childhood heart. However, on the off chance that you’re uninitiated in the cult classics below, let me give you a brief rundown of each show and throw in some highlights to entice you to join said cult.
There’s a longer description, but here’s the gist: British professor turns into animals, fights crime, and steals hearts. See? It practically greenlights itself. Glen A. Larson, writer of such truly classic gems as Battlestar Galactica, Knight Rider, and Magnum P.I., waved his magic pen to weave together a sexy police detective, a Vietnam vet, and a panther (or sometimes a sweet falcon – or a horse!) for some intrigue and action. If you’re into practical special effects, then this series is for you. There’s some pretty sweet explosions, righteous car crashes, and Stan Winston makeup effects gleaned from American Werewolf in London which are certainly a novelty in today’s CGI world.
This 1983 series kicks things off with a 90-minute pilot and follows with seven other episodes. The complete series DVD contains several bonus features such as “Man to Animal: An Interview With Glen A. Larson,” production notes, biographies, galleries, and more! The 3-disc collection stars Simon MacCorkindale, Melody Anderson, and Michael D. Roberts and is available from Shout! Factory.
If you’re wondering what could give a crime-fighting panther a run for its money, look no further than Automan. Once again, writer Glen A. Larson attempted to capture lightning in a bottle – this time hot off the heels of Disney’s Tron. With similar style and substance to the much better-remembered film, Automan still manages to entertain. Desi Arnaz, Jr. plays computer geek Walter Nebicher who somehow seems to have taken possession of what looks like NASA’s old computer mainframe stored within the basement of a police precinct, pressed a few buttons, and magically created a hologram (“That’s a very fancy word for a three-dimensional picture that, when perfected, can be made to look real, sound real. As a matter of fact, given enough power, it can even be made to feel real!”) named Automan to help him fight crime.
The effects were no doubt stunning for the time, and the stories are rife with fantastic amounts of ’80s pop culture references and questionable fashion choices, but most episodes are simply packed wall-to-wall with Chuck Wagner’s majestic hair. If you need anything besides machismo and luscious locks for your viewing pleasure, then you’ll enjoy some of the special features on this DVD release, which include the usual photo galleries, biographies, and the like. However, the most appealing special feature is the separate 42-minute documentary “Calling Automan” which features interviews with all the original cast and creator Glen A. Larson. The thirteen episodes are contained on four discs in this set available from Shout! Factory.
In all seriousness, I enjoyed these DVD releases. It’s always nice to own a piece of your childhood you thought you would never experience again. The effects make you appreciate how far we’ve come, the pacing makes you long for more substance and better plot and character development in our current television lineup, and the stories just make you feel like a kid all over again.
Disclaimer: I received copies of these DVDs for review purposes.